The latest report on the Marine Environment points to a pattern of under-investment in basic science and the collation and interpretation of data that is required for effective national decision making in other areas that relate to the oceans.
On 17 October the Ministry of the Environment released its latest report on the marine environment. It can be accessed at www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/marine/our-marine-environment-2019.
The report makes for powerful reading. There are some positive stories but these seem to be strongly outweighed by the negatives. Amongst the positives, the status of southern right whales has improved (from nationally vulnerable to recovering) and the New Zealand sea lion has moved from being in a nationally endangered state to one which is merely vulnerable. The status of two shorebirds, the northern New Zealand dotterel and the pied stilt/poaka, have both improved. Our fisheries, with some exceptions, have stabilised.
On the other hand, while very few marine species are assessed (see below), of those species that have been assessed, 22% of marine mammals, 90% of seabirds and 80% of shorebirds are threatened with, or at actual risk of, extinction. From a national conservation perspective, this is truly appalling.
Towards a better understanding of our environment
On our reading, one of the issues that emerges most strongly from this report, is the relative paucity of data on which many of the issues discussed are being assessed. The report concludes with a significant list of areas in which our knowledge of the marine environment is patchy at best. Reports of this kind are not written in emotive language, but on the evidence here, there is every reason to think that New Zealand has been under-investing for far too long in basic data collection and assessment and that it is time that we pulled up our socks.
The Oceans Foundation has seen the same pattern of under-investment in basic science and the collation and interpretation of data that is required for effective national decision making in other areas that relate to the oceans. This is true in the area of our offshore minerals and metals and it is also true for the issues covered in this report. New Zealand can do better.